May 18, 2012

A tale of two wicketkeepers

England have had a superb wicketkeeper-batsman for most of their last five years, but West Indies have been struggling to find someone who can score runs

Exactly five years before the start of this season's international summer in England, Matt Prior made his Test debut. On May 17, 2007, against West Indies at Lord's, Prior played his first Test match and immediately announced himself to the world with an Adam Gilchrist-like knock - 126 not out off 128 balls - which completely destroyed West Indies' resistance after three England batsmen had already scored hundreds before him. Five years later, to the day, as Prior starts another series against the same team at the same venue, he'll feel secure in the knowledge that he has added significant value to the team during this period. His glovework wasn't the best initially but he has improved significantly, while his work in front of the stumps has added a whole new dimension to England's lower-order batting.

While England have found a reliable wicketkeeper and stuck with him, West Indies go into this series hoping that Denesh Ramdin will justify the faith that they have reposed in him. During these five years, West Indies have struggled to find wicketkeepers who could also contribute usefully with the bat: Ramdin's played 28 Tests during these five years and was the first-choice wicketkeeper till a couple of years ago, but he averaged only 21.04 during this period. That forced the selectors to look elsewhere, and while Carlton Baugh, his replacement, was largely faultless behind the stumps, his returns with the bat were even more disappointing - in 16 Tests he averaged 17.25, and in his last 13 innings he had a highest score of 30.

Thanks to those ordinary numbers, the overall average for West Indian wicketkeepers in the last five years is 18.76. (Remember, there was also a wicketkeeper called Chadwick Walton, who played two Tests against Bangladesh and scored all of 13 runs in four innings.) That average of 18.76 is easily the lowest among all teams in Tests during this period - the next-lowest is Pakistan, and their wicketkeepers have averaged almost ten runs more. England, meanwhile, have got more than twice the number of runs from their wicketkeepers compared to West Indies. So while the top-order batting and bowling are the obvious areas where West Indies appear outmatched, the batting contribution of their wicketkeeper is another area where they've fallen woefully short.

Wicketkeeper-batsmen for each team since May 17, 2007
Team Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
England 63 3205 40.56 7/ 22
India 59 3000 35.71 4/ 22
Australia 57 2980 35.47 4/ 14
New Zealand 39 2090 33.70 4/ 10
Sri Lanka 45 1896 31.60 4/ 6
South Africa 46 1686 29.57 1/ 10
Bangladesh 29 1504 29.49 1/ 9
Zimbabwe 4 232 29.00 0/ 2
Pakistan 37 1573 28.08 2/ 10
West Indies 45 1332 18.76 1/ 6

The table above shows that West Indian wicketkeepers have struggled with the bat over the last five years, but even going back a little further than that, batting has seldom been a forte for West Indian keepers. The table below confirms that: looking at stats all the way from 1960 till date, West Indies and Bangladesh are the only teams whose wicketkeepers have averaged less than 25.

Bangladesh's numbers aren't surprising, but the stats for West Indies indicate that they've always relied on their specialist batsmen for their runs: during the same period (1960 onwards), West Indies' top six average 38.85, which puts them in fifth place, and better than Pakistan, England and New Zealand. However, their wicketkeepers have generally been less than prolific with the bat. In the days gone by, with batting line-ups that included Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Richardson and Lloyd, the lack of runs from the wicketkeeper didn't matter much, but with the batting riches not quite so plentiful now, West Indies will want more runs from their keepers.

Wicketkeeper-batsmen for each team in Tests since 1960
Team Players Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Zimbabwe 4 87 5970 43.57 13/ 34
South Africa 7 229 8873 29.77 10/ 56
Australia 18 497 19,671 29.09 29/ 89
Sri Lanka 17 212 8857 28.85 18/ 29
England 23 562 21,494 28.35 25/ 111
India 23 398 14,715 27.76 14/ 78
Pakistan 21 338 11,473 25.95 13/ 56
New Zealand 19 319 11,204 25.52 11/ 48
West Indies 17 402 13,552 24.68 11/ 71
Bangladesh 4 73 2985 23.69 2/ 13

Among the eight West Indian wicketkeepers who've scored more than 500 runs since 1960, only one - Gerry Alexander - has an average of more than 40. (Alexander averaged 30.03 over his entire career, but during the period in question, he averaged 42.28 in ten Tests.) Jeff Dujon was a top-class wicketkeeper-batsman who averaged 31.46 - and was a better batsman than those numbers suggest - while Ridley Jacobs was pretty effective too, but the others had pretty ordinary numbers. The current wicketkeeper, Ramdin, is bunched together with a few others who averaged in the early 20s, but he has the highest score among all of them, 166, and the second-highest among all West Indian wicketkeepers ever. (Only Clyde Walcott, with an unbeaten 168, has scored more.)

West Indian wicketkeepers who've scored 500+ Test runs since 1960
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Jeff Dujon 79 3146 31.46 5/ 16
Ridley Jacobs 65 2577 28.31 3/ 14
Deryck Murray 62 1993 22.90 0/ 11
Denesh Ramdin 42 1482 22.80 1/ 8
Junior Murray 31 853 23.05 1/ 3
David Murray 19 601 21.46 0/ 3
Gerry Alexander 10 592 42.28 1/ 5
Carlton Baugh 20 587 18.34 0/ 3

England, on the other hand, have had a few wicketkeepers who've also been more-than-competent batsmen. Alec Stewart averaged almost 35 in the Tests he played as a wicketkeeper, during an era when there were several great bowlers in world cricket. Alan Knott was a more-than-useful batsman too, with five centuries and 30 fifties in 149 innings. In this era of top-class wicketkeeper-batsmen, though, Prior has set a benchmark as one of the best England have ever had. Now, if only West Indies could find someone of that class too.

England wicketkeepers who've scored 500+ Test runs since 1960
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Alec Stewart 82 4540 34.92 6/ 23
Alan Knott 95 4389 32.75 5/ 30
Matt Prior 53 2758 43.09 6/ 19
Jack Russell 54 1897 27.10 2/ 6
Jim Parks 43 1876 32.34 2/ 9
Geraint Jones 34 1172 23.91 1/ 6
Bob Taylor 57 1156 16.28 0/ 3
Paul Downton 30 785 19.62 0/ 4
All stats exclude the ongoing Lord's Test

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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